Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home
Let’s face it. Very few of us are completely untouched by public opinion, whether it’s barely beneath the surface or just an occasional niggling feeling. Even the most die-hard unschooler must wonder at some point: Are we on the right track? Am I doing enough?
If your students are under 11 or 12, keep relaxing. Please, oh please, enjoy these days. Snuggle together reading, spend hours doing crafts, take long walks and bend down to examine every insect. Bake a cake and call it science. Go to a museum and call it history. Go grocery shopping and call it math.
I have now graduated one student, who is in his first year of college, and I can say with assurance: I do not regret one single day that we spent decorating cookies instead of doing a math worksheet.
But the time does come to transition.
Generally around seventh grade, you and your student will be ready to ease into what I think of as the academic years—the move toward independence. This road to independence should be a purposeful one. We have deliberately cultivated a relaxed approach to our lives, and in homeschooling and parenting, this translates at one level to relinquishing control little by little. Your child cannot become independent if you do everything for him because it’s the way you want things done.
So how do you make the transition from playdough to research papers? Slowly, but deliberately.
1. Give more independent work.
I have heard many parents comment that, “I don’t know how my daughter will ever be independent. I have to sit beside her the whole time we do school.” I would suggest being frank with your student, explaining that the time has come for her to work toward independence.
Start by having him do his easiest subject entirely on his own. Add in the rest throughout the next couple of years and aim for nearly complete independent work by ninth grade.
2. Give your student a checklist of the things that need to be done on his own.
You can make a daily list or a weekly list, depending on your student’s preference.
Be sure to check your student’s work after he has finished. Don’t wait until the end of the week to check all his work. He needs fairly immediate feedback in order to process corrections.
3. Teach him to follow through with assignments.
Allowing our kids to not finish an assignment is easy in homeschooling. No one’s checking, right?
We know he can write that essay. We know she understands the results of the experiment; why make her write the lab report? Insisting that your student complete a project is one of the greatest skill sets you can give him. Don’t let that essay fizzle before the final draft. Require your student to finish what he starts.
4. Make him accountable to someone else.
This can be the best way for him to learn to follow through. In eighth grade we added academic co-op classes to our son’s schedule that required homework, making him accountable to someone other than us. Although we’d always been active in our co-op, the classes had been enrichment classes— classes without letter grades—up until this point.
But beginning in eighth grade, our oldest took two high-school level courses. Both classes, taught by homeschooling parents, were in a fairly traditional classroom setting with tests and homework. The previous year had given him a good foundation in working independently and following a checklist; now he was putting this into action and doing his work for someone else. He began to develop his own system of studying.
If you don’t have a co-op, consider asking a homeschooling friend if s/he would be willing to teach a small literature or math class, or start one yourself. It really is worth it.
5. Give grades.
Yes, I know some of you bristle or feel woozy when you hear the term “grades.” (On the other hand, some of you probably saying, “Duh! Who doesn’t give grades?”)
I never gave grades until eighth grade. I gave smiley faces, usually ones that resembled aliens. But the truth is, your high schooler needs a GPA. Get him used to the idea of letter grades before he gets to ninth grade.
6. Don’t treat him like a little kid.
Stop picking out his clothes, if you haven’t already. Make sure she is taking an active role in much of the decision making.
Don’t make him go on awkward field trips to the children’s museum if he doesn’t want to go. Help him mature by respecting his wishes (within reason).
7. Don’t stop having fun.
We have a tendency to feel panicked and come down hard on our kids when they hit this age. Please don’t. Middle schoolers still need to have fun. For that matter, high schoolers still need to have fun!
My middle schooler still enjoys doing lapbooks and coloring while listening to read-alouds. We still make time for age-level field trips and the kind of days when school consists of gardening and playing kickball.
If you thoughtfully begin the transition, your student will have a decent foundation of working independently when he heads into high school.
Are you feeling anxious about heading into the “big kid” years? If you are nearing those years, what steps are you taking to transition?